Monday, September 18, 2006

Share the Wealth

Last week, one of the MDs I work with said, "I wish I had your zest for life."

It's a gift, this joy, and I think I was given that to balance the sorrow that an extremely tender heart often gives me.

Things that seem small to others -- birds chirping, blue skies, a friendly face -- make my heart sing; while that's a trite way to put it, that's exactly how it feels.

At the same time, other things which people seem to manage to avoid thinking about -- a squashed squirrel, a sad face, an obituary of a stranger -- these leave an ache. When I can help, I don't hurt; but when I can't help, it hurts.

My children are the same way; when they were younger, even though we all knew the animal on the side of the road was dead, we'd all reassure each other with, "It's resting. Just resting. Fast asleep." It was our conspiracy of kindness for each other, helping us protect our emotions...and in helping each other, the original hurt we couldn't help was soothed for us.

Sometimes I think I should have helped my children learn to be emotionally tougher, except that I'm not sure how I would have done that...or that I would have been happy with that result in the long run. I have to admit that it gives me great delight to see my son rescue drowning earthworms, or to hear about my daughter coaxing a scared lost dog from the highway into her car and then finding it a home.

Learning to understand my sadness was my key to finding joy.

So Doc, I hope you can find your zest for life; I've talked with you enough to know you have the sadness down. Perhaps you need your own conspiracy of kindness, and find your delights in the world around you. They're here -- open your eyes and look.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Rate Your Pain

Pain is the 5th vital sign (after BP, pulse, respirations, and temp), according to what I was told in nursing school. Pain is an indicator of things gone wrong, and it's also ethically wrong to leave a patient in pain if it can be avoided.

At one of my jobs (head and neck), pain is taken very seriously, and strong drugs are prescribed on a fairly regular basis, because a lot of what we treat is cancer, which is very painful. At my other job, however, pain is often ignored, because some (not all) psych patients desperately want the high that pain meds can give.

Last night, we happened to have a patient with compartment syndrome. Of the four of us working, none of us knew what this was, so we looked it up. Compartment syndrome is a condition in which an area of the leg will be injured (possibly by having circulation cut off), and this results in chronic, long-term pain which is much worse than the condition seems to warrant...yet the psychiatrist had only prescribed Tylenol, and nothing stronger.

So we started talking about pain, and pain ratings. Normally, we ask patients to rate pain on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being "none" and 10 being the "worst imaginable".

Most cancer patients rarely rate their pain as high as 10. Most psych patients rarely rate their pain as less than 10, perhaps because they are afraid they will not be taken seriously...or perhaps because they are desperate for the brief relief from reality that enough morphine or demerol will give them. And most psych nurses have no patience with med-seeking behaviors.

One of the long-time psych nurses said, "When they rate their pain as a 10, I always want to say, 'if someone stuck a dagger in your heart, would that hurt worse? Yes? Then it's not a 10, IS IT?'" While none of us would ever say this, even to a patient who appeared to be drug seeking, it struck us as very funny. Of course, at 4:30am, with my 3 coworkers each nearing the end of a double shift, everything is funny.

When I came home, Gavin happened to be awake, savoring the last of his weekend and already dreading Monday.

Gavin, groaning: "Oh, Mom, it's school tomorrow. Monday is like Tuesday, only it's evil. It's awful. Mondays HURT."

So, I asked him to rate his pain on a scale of 0-10, and when he rated it as 10, I asked, "If someone stuck a dagger in your heart, would that hurt worse?"

Gavin: "If someone stuck a dagger in my heart, I wouldn't have to go to school! I could join the circus and be the 'Dagger in the Heart Boy' and everyone would pay to see me! And no school again, ever!"

Why is it that my conversations with Gavin always seem to veer off into weirdness? (I have to admit, though, I take a lot of joy in it...)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Crime and Punishment

My children are spoiled rotten. And it's all their own fault.

Early on, both kids realized the futility of screaming, having fits, arguing, or any of those other negative ways to achieve desires.

I can hold out against those things forever; they only make me more firm in whatever decision I have made.

What I can't resist, though, are Puppy Eyes.

I think Alex was 6 or 7 before she discovered this -- in some mysterious way, her eyes would grow twice as big and slightly glassy (as though tear filled), her lips turn ever so slightly down, eyebrows slightly raised, head tilted to the side, chin tilted down, and her brow furrowed...and she'd gaze up at me as though her last hope had just disappeared.

It was a look that would break the hardest heart. It turned me to mush in an instant, and after that, "No" became "Maybe" and finally, "Yes".

After that, any discipline I was able to muster swiftly dissipated with each glimpse of Puppy Eyes.

And then Gavin learned the secret too, and I was lost.

Luckily, they have never abused their power. They've learned to use Puppy Eyes for Good instead of Evil.

It's funny, though, to have a 6 foot tall, scraggly-bearded, 17-year-old boy on the cusp of manhood make Puppy Eyes at me. How can he be taller than me and STILL manage to be gazing up at me while we're both standing?

It's all part of the Puppy Eyes magic. And it means I'm bringing home pizza after work.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I joined Netflix a couple of months ago, and Gavin and I have been indulging ourselves once a week or so with the classic, old, or strange movies that we could never find at Blockbuster. Gavin's a fan of the noir genre (partly because of the ultra cool hats), and I've always liked old films, so we have a good time with it.

We saw a movie I've wanted to see for a long time -- Freaks -- and it was even darker than I thought it would be. If you've never seen this movie, it's about a circus in which there are two distinct groups: the "normal" people and the "sideshow" people and the interactions between the two groups. There are no special effects; the sideshow folks play themselves.

Since this is a pre-PC movie, I feared it would be belittling or sensational (especially since it also involves an attempted murder), but it wasn't. The physical differences are portrayed in a matter-of-fact way, and by the end of the movie, it's plain that the "freaks" are those so-called "normal" people who have emotional and ethical handicaps.

I've noticed, over the past few years, my increasing invisibility as I age. Stranger's eyes slide over and past me without stopping; most don't talk unless I talk first. In fact, the people who most usually interact with me spontaneously are other women my age.

I am not quite sure I can put down in words the elusive thoughts that connect my feelings of invisibility to the movie. The connections are there, tied up in societal definitions of beauty and our current narrow definition of it. I know so few women who are truly happy with their bodies, truly comfortable within their own skin..."I have to lose a few pounds"..."look at this fat roll"..."my nose is too big"..."I can't stand this cellulite".

I look at my friends, though, and they are gorgeous. *We* are gorgeous. We've earned every one of our years, sometimes at high cost, and we've persevered. We're the survivors of our generation and we have much to share with the world around us.

When I look at women's magazines, the "beauty tips" are all about "this year's face" or "this year's look". Do we really all have to look the same to be attractive? Because that's the thing about older women: we look lived in. Who and what we are is written on our faces and our bodies. There's no "this year's look" for us; we have each found our own way to look, and our own style, and sometimes I wonder if that's why society doesn't want to deal with us. Like the "freaks" in the movie, we're individuals. As young adults, we could try on different personas, different ways to look, and we could blend in with the crowd if we wished. As we get older, though, our individuality becomes too great to hide behind similar makeup and similar fashions. Our life experiences have marked us. We don't all fit in the same tidy package...and most of us don't want to anymore.

Or maybe it's just me, and I'm doomed to become the crazy cat lady down the block.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Define "Boring"

Gavin: Mom, would you buy me a copy of Dante's Inferno?

Me: Sure. Do you need it for school?

Gavin: No, but my psychology class is really boring...and if I hide it inside my textbook, then Mrs. Harris won't realize I'm actually reading something else.
Besides, I've always wanted to read it.


Gavin has the most surprising choices of reading material (the last thing he asked me to buy was the Tao Te Ching)...and yes, I bought it. If he wants to read The Inferno instead of listening to the high school psychology teacher expound on telekinesis (yes, that was one of their units), then I'm all for that.